Big Brother is watching you: employees and TV appearances
Chloe Harrold, June 13, 2016
What should employers do to prevent potentially damaging television appearances by their staff?
As 'reality' TV continues to be popular and broadcasters increasingly use vox pops to seek out public opinion, employers may be fearful of a PR disaster unfolding if their employees get involved. So what can employers do to limit potential damage?
Do you have to accommodate an employee's request to appear on TV?
Employees have the right to a private life, and their choice to appear on television may fall within this. If you don’t want staff appearing on TV and you have good business reasons for this it could be reasonable to say no.
Set out your concerns in writing, being specific about why you believe the show conflicts with the ethos or image of the company. You could refuse permission, or grant it subject to conditions including on the strict understanding that the individual does not talk about their employer. Explain the consequences of a breach of these instructions fully and you could have grounds on which to discipline if they go ahead regardless.
If it happens anyway
It may not occur to your employee to ask permission, or perhaps they are questioned as an audience member of a programme or stopped on the street for a vox pop. What happens in these situations if they make comments that are inappropriate, embarrassing or offensive?
Prevention is better than cure. You’ll be in a much stronger position if you have warned workers in advance of the standards expected of them. A media policy to make distinctions between what is and isn’t acceptable covers situations where specific permission hasn’t been sought (it could even state that permission must be obtained). Such policies should set out whether the employee is permitted to mention their employer, and if so, to what extent.
When it all goes wrong
Check what the conditions were – if any – of the individual appearing on TV. If you gave clear parameters of their expected behaviour and these has been breached then you could potentially pursue disciplinary action. If you weren’t aware in advance of the appearance but their behaviour has been so bad as to cause harm to your business or reputation then you could still potentially pursue disciplinary action. This applies whether their appearance was on a reality programme or they gave a soundbite.
If you had no conditions in place in advance, or a client has recognised your employee and no longer wishes to work with them, then it should be dealt with in the same way as any other complaint or misconduct. A full investigation is key. It’s important to remember that if there’s no evidence that reputational damage has been, or is likely to be, caused then dismissal may be unfair.
Is this all going too far?
Should employers be interfering in their employees' personal choice to appear on TV? A careful balance should be struck. A blanket ban on staff appearing on their favourite programmes may create resentment, alienation and encroach on their right to a private life. A case by case approach supported by key guidelines is the best way forward, otherwise before long the employer becomes Big Brother.
Chloe Harrold is an associate at employment law firm Doyle Clayton